The UN says that Yemen is at risk of famine. The Export of UK-manufactured weapons and ammunition to Saudi Arabia remains controversial

Download the full report

Although the Saudi-led coalition has air superiority, the military situation in Yemen is something of a stalemate. The Saudis and their allies, including the officially recognised President, Abdrabbuh Mansour al-Hadi, do not have enough ground forces to push the Houthi side out of areas they hold.

Meanwhile, 10,000 people have been killed and the humanitarian situation has deteriorated. The country is on the verge of a large-scale famine, according to UN agencies, and there is the world’s worst outbreak of cholera.

Iran and Hizbollah may be increasing their commitment to the Houthi side.

The sea port of al-Hodeida, where much of Yemen’s food is imported, will be crucial. The Saudi/Hadi side would like to re-take it saying that that would allow aid to be distributed. Others are worried that that a battle over the port would lead to massive civilian casualties. UN attempts to mediate a ceasefire, or at least to prevent fighting over Hodeida, have not been met with much success. The Houthi side sees the UN as too close to Saudi interests.

Some in the Trump Administration are calling for a stronger US commitment to the conflict, and the US has released some arms sales to Saudi Arabia. There are also worries, however, about too much involvement in the difficult war, and the advantage that escalation could give to Al-Qaeda, which has a significant presence in Yemen. Also of concern is the possibility that Yemen could be a destination for ISIS/Daesh fighters expelled from Iraq and Syria.

The UK Government supports the UN-led attempts to negotiate a solution, it says. The main controversy about the UK’s involvement has been over the sales of UK-built weapons to the Saudis, and the allegation that the Saudi side has been responsible for violations of international humanitarian law. The UK Government says that its export licensing regime is robust and that it believes that UK-supplied equipment has been used on accordance with the law. A judicial review was held in February 2017 but the results are not yet public. The House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls split on the question of whether arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be suspended.

  • Commons Research Briefing CBP-8026
  • Author: Ben Smith
  • Topics: Middle East

Download the full report